Winter Olympics XXIV: What’s the impact of the Olympics on freeskiing?

Winter Olympics XXIV: What’s the impact of the Olympics on freeskiing?

There’s no question that freeskiing has brought a youthful energy to the Winter Olympics. “I think the Olympics needs freeskiing more than freeskiing needs the Olympics,” says freeskiing legend and regular Winter Olympics commentator Chris Davenport. “It’s such a vibrant sport and adds a lot of cool factor and star power to the Games.”

In many ways, slopestyle, big air and halfpipe are perfect Olympic fits as you can build venues around these sports. But, at its heart, freeskiing has always been about expressing individuality on the snow. That’s what makes it so thrilling to watch. Some traditionalists fear the Olympics could stifle that creativity. “As wonderful of a tradition as the Olympics is, it can sterilize sports by being overly rigorous on judging,” cautions Davenport. “Freesking is supposed to be just that. It’s about your own individual interpretation of moves and tricks.”

Others in the freeski world echo Davenport’s concern that athletes might start feeling pressure to put together robotic runs that they know will score well, similar to closely critiqued Olympic sports like gymnastics or figure skating. Freeski athletes receive scores from 1-100 from a team of judges based on the skill and variety of their tricks, as well as progression and execution. In the case of big air, competitors are also scored on the height and distance of their jumps.

In its first two Olympics, athletes stayed true to freeski culture. Rather than be pushed into a box, they’ve used the Olympics to push the sport forward. And there’s no arguing the Olympic stage commands a wider audience than, say, the X Games or even World Cup events, its broad reach casting a wide net sure to inspire a future generation of freeskiers. “As someone who competed in both the X Games and the Olympics, I can say that the Olympics is the Super Bowl,” says U.S. Ski Team Halfpipe Coach, Mike Riddle. “It transcends your sport. There are people who will never watch the X Games but they’ll watch the Olympics. The X Games is our sport’s marquee event, except in an Olympic year.” 

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